Though there’s certainly a lot of confusion over whether Taiwan is an actual stand alone country, one thing’s for certain is that their food is both unique and delicious. Taiwan’s cuisine is an intriguing mix between Chinese and Japanese influence and delivers dishes such as smoked plums, peanut butter mochi, and five spice crackers. Starting in the 17th century all the way until the 19th century, Taiwan was considered to be an official part of China. In the late 1800’s however, the island was ceded to Japan and then given back to China again fifty years later. The issue still hasn’t been resolved to this day and there is still much confusion surrounding the status of Taiwan, with many nations including the United States recognizing Taiwan as a part of China while the people of Taiwan have different views and consider themselves their own separate country.
Bubble Tea Popcorn with Black Tea Flakes
An exclusive for Universal Yums subscribers, this bubble tea popcorn was made specifically for this month’s box and perfectly embodies the taste of Taiwan’s famous black tea. It’s not just all about black tea, because in Taiwan it’s always tea time and they’re not prone to only one kind. Teas such as oolong, black, and green are served on almost every street corner at all hours of the day but it wasn’t always the huge hit that it is to this day. In the 1980’s, tea was viewed as an unfashionable drink and it was mainly only elders who consumed it. This was bad news for Liu Han Chieh, the owner of a small tea house who decided to start serving his tea chilled, to appeal to the younger generations who already adored iced coffee drinks. His creation was a huge success but eight years later came one of his most popular creations, bubble tea. One of Liu’s shop employees was enjoying some tapioca pudding and for fun decided to dump her tapioca pearls into her iced milk tea thus creating the international phenomenon which has grown in popularity immensely in the past few years. The popcorn that we will be trying this month is coated in a sweet, bubble tea coating and then dusted with real black tea flakes.
Seaweed Corn Bar
Seaweed is a staple in Taiwanese cuisine and can be found virtually everywhere, not just on the beaches. In Taiwan, these ocean plants are a favorite snack food and are enjoyed as a dried treat or as a seasoning in chips, puffs, and crackers. With this seaweed corn bar, we’ll be snacking like a real Taiwanese local but don’t be put off by the though of consuming the stuff that is normally wrapped around your legs while swimming at the beach because the seaweed and the corn blend perfectly together for a delicious sea salt tasting treat with a hint of sweetness.
Black Sesame Cake
These traditional Taiwanese cakes are massively popular and are eaten virtually everyday throughout the country. These beloved black sesame cakes are made using toasting black sesame seeds that are mixed with sugar and pressed into dense, rectangular sheets. Though these treats are not the fluffy and sweet cakes that we may be used to, the sesame cake is far less sweet but the bold nutty flavor and the crumbly crunch still makes for one amazing treat.
Five Spice Crackers
Regular old crackers are normally made with about 1 or 2 spices, but these Taiwanese crackers are not the norm because they are made with five different spices. This special blend of spices comes from an ancient Chinese recipe and it is believed that these spices have a natural healing power. Another unique thing about these spices is that they manage to combine all five of the major flavors into one mixture: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and pungent. These Taiwanese crackers perfectly blend together fennel, anise, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper to create the perfect snack whose special powder is still used today in Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine.
Peanut Butter Choco Ball
For fifty years, Japan ruled Taiwan and did their best to treat the locals fairly and created jobs to boost the country’s economy. After World War 2 however, Japan lost control of the island but their presence in Taiwan is generally still viewed as a positive influence and unlike many countries that have been colonized, Taiwan still has a friendly relationship with Japan. This is the reason why that Taiwan has implemented many of Japan’s dishes into their cuisine including mochi, one of Japan’s most famous desserts. We’ll be getting a taste of this beloved treat in the form of these choc balls, with a creamy peanut butter center, fluffy mochi, and a rich chocolate shell to cover it all up.
Spicy Scallion Stick
Though there is no shortage of food options packed with flavor in Taiwan, you will rarely come across any excessively spicy dishes as the Taiwanese tend to stray from the heat. When they do use spicy ingredients, they tend to mellow them out with sweet ingredients which is why these ‘spicy’ scallion sticks are nothing to be afraid of if you’re the type of person who can’t take the heat. For the perfect balance of sweet and barely there spiciness, this snack is made with a sweet honey coating mixed with scallion, sesame, garlic, and a touch of chili pepper.
Cadina Salted Fries
In the past twenty or so years, our country in question this month has been hit with fast food fever. Restaurants that we in North America are accustomed to and love such as KFC, Mcdonalds, and Pizza Hut have been popping up all over the country and the Taiwanese are living for it. The Taiwanese fast food culture has become so popular in the past two years that they have beaten out the United States in terms of eating out with Taiwanese eating out an average of 30 times a month versus Americans doing it 20 times a month. For that reason, it’s a no brainer to find these salted fries in this month’s box.
Say hello to taro, the funny looking purple vegetable that can be found on the packaging of these wafers. Taro is a purple colored cousin of the potato and has a complex nutty flavor and is beloved by the people of Taiwan. It is so loved that there is even an entire celebration dedicated to the root, where thousands of locals flock to the town of Little Kinmen for the Taro Festival where they can dig for their own fresh taro, take pictures with the purple mascot and enjoy a wide variety of different taro dishes. Now we will also be able to celebrate the purple root with these taro cream wafers.
Basil Pea Crackers
Even though you would normally associate basil with Italian margherita pizzas and homemade pesto gnocchi, the Taiwanese actually use just as much if not more basil than they do in Italy. Taiwanese sweet basil is a common ingredient found in many traditional dishes and with a milder flavor than the kind found in the West, this herb adds a unique brightness and flavor to classics such as ice cream, braised eggplant, and even in these pea crackers.
Brown Sugar Lotus Cake
Representing rebirth and purity, there is no flower more important in Taiwanese culture than the lotus flower. Since ancient times, the unique flower has been a spiritual symbol throughout the Eastern world and is often used as a metaphor for human perseverance. Aside from it’s spiritual qualities, the lotus flower is also highly valued for its seeds which are often found in a wide variety of Taiwanese pastries. This sticky cake is made from a mixture of lotus seed powder and wheat along with a layer of caramelized brown sugar to hold everything all together.
Red Bean Milk Candy
Fun fact; Taiwanese people very rarely eat chocolate and actually eat less than a pound of chocolate every year. While people in Taiwan don’t have a sweet tooth, they do have a different dessert of choice: beans. One of the most popular sweet ingredients in Taiwan is a type of red bean known as ‘adzuki’ which are boiled, sweetened, and mashed into a paste that is often used as a substitute for chocolate. These chewy candies included in this month’s box combine the fresh, mild fruitiness of the beans with the richness of the milk for a sweet treat that’ll leave you craving more.
Smoked Plum Candy
Smoked plums are widely popular throughout Asia for their unique flavoring and extensive health benefits. For over 1,000 years, the plums have been used for a popular cold, sour drink called ‘suanmeitang’ that is normally drunk during the summer months. We’ll be able to get a taste of this iconic drink with these smoked plum candies that are packed with intensely sweet and sour flavors along with a hint of saltiness for a truly unique and unforgettable treat.
Black Sesame Candy
From bagels to hamburger buns, virtually everyone has gotten a taste of sesame seeds before. While we may be used to the white sesame seeds in the West, Eastern countries such as Taiwan prefer black sesame seeds instead. Though they look similar besides their color and while both varieties come from the same plant, the black sesame seeds have an outer shell while the white ones do not. This gives the black ones a more robust and slightly bitter flavor which almost mimics the taste of black coffee. Aside from their unique flavoring, these seeds have long been praised for their health benefits ranging from anti-aging to fighting cancer. In some parts of Asia, the sesame seeds are even used to make an herbal medicine for long, shiny hair. This month we’ll be able to fully appreciate these Taiwanese sesame seeds with these chewy candies with a sweet, toasty flavor.
That’s a wrap for our culinary adventure to Taiwan, as always be sure to stick around for next month’s journey to the United Kingdom. In the mean time, feel free to check out all of the other countries we’ve adventured to with Universal Yums.